As part of the plan to keep Studebaker in the auto business, Sherwood Egbert called on Brooks Stevens to update the Hawk. With little time and less money, Stevens created the stunning Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk.
An enraged Raymond Loewy rushed to a phone when he first saw the new Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk at the 1961 Paris Auto Show. He couldn't understand how Studebaker could have allowed Brooks Stevens to modify his firm's 1953 Studebaker Starliner design so extensively. Fortune magazine had called it "one of the hundred best designs of modern times." In his transatlantic call to South Bend, he demanded to know what had happened and how.
Studebaker executives, however, realized the wisdom of their decision and stood by Brooks Stevens' new design. Loewy, busy with the Avanti project for Studebaker, dropped the matter.
Only infrequently has a face-lift not destroyed the purity of an original concept. Stevens' heroic restyling of the Starliner is an example of the rare exception ("heroic" because Stevens accomplished the task on a shoestring budget and in very limited time). His 1962-1964 Gran Turismo Hawk emerged as a refreshing, timeless design that looks as good today as when it first debuted almost 50 years ago. And Stevens' design took nothing away from the Starliner, for when parked side by side both cars still look "right."
When Stevens was called to South Bend, Studebaker -- the oldest vehicle manufacturer in the U.S. -- was on the ropes. It had made wagons since before the Civil War, but now pressures were mounting, from within and without, to abandon automobile production. Some say Studebaker had been slowly dying ever since its brush with bankruptcy in the 1930s. But material production had brought in a lot of capital during World War II, and the future looked promising in 1946.
The challenges and opportunities were there. The problem was that management consistently took the wrong turn at every crossroad. In some ways, the company was ahead of its time, as with its late Forties and early Fifties association with Loewy. In other aspects, it seemed woefully out of date, especially in some areas of engineering.
Ford is generally given credit for creating the sporty "personal-luxury" market with the 1958 Thunderbird, or "Squarebird." Its basic dimensions seem to have been borrowed from General Motors' Autorama dream cars of the mid-Fifties, but GM didn't enter this segment until Pontiac fielded the 1962 Grand Prix -- or mid-1961, when Olds debuted the Starfire.
In fact, Studebaker beat both Ford and GM to market in 1956 with the sporty, well-trimmed Hawk. Although really a makeover of the 1953 Starliner, the Hawk was both a good performer and a good looker, particularly the top-of-the-line Golden Hawk.
Studebaker called it "a sports car...that restores the fun and excitement to luxury motoring." Only later did others invade that market niche -- 1958 T-Bird, 1963 Riviera, 1966 Olds Toronado, 1967 Cadillac Eldorado, and others -- but Studebaker could lay claim to being the first of this lineage.
Studebaker was in financial trouble as the Hawk was being developed. Learn how Egbert kept the ball rolling during difficult times on the next page.
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Financial Problems at Studebaker in the 1960s
The Gran Turismo Hawk was a great innovation, but people wondered why Studebaker felt the need to change it for 1962. By 1961 the Hawk was six years old, and largely unchanged style-wise. And from 1959 to 1961, the Hawk was promoted as a low-price pillared coupe, forsaking its place in the personal-luxury market.
Then, too, problems at Studebaker-Packard had driven some respected designers -- Duncan McRae and Bill Schmidt -- to do things to the Hawk that never would have been done under normal conditions, one result being the 1958 Packard Hawk.
For the Studebaker Hawk, a continued penny-pinching effort to change it a bit here and a tad there kept alive the hope that any change might promote sales. Performance-wise, however, the car held together and there were loyal buyers, albeit not enough.
Financially, Studebaker was in turmoil. The remedies tried in the late Fifties by corporate president Harold Churchill weren't working. Sales and morale were low, productivity abysmal. Compounding the problems were the New York money men who had gained power on the board of directors.
Schemes for the manipulation of tax credits and plans for Studebaker's exit from the automobile business in favor of some of its more lucrative holdings were continually being pushed by board members, especially Abraham M. Sonnabend. Studebaker had seven divisions then, including an airline and an appliance manufacturing plant.
In this climate, board chairman Clarence Francis retained the Beyden executive talent firm to find a young man on a white horse to run the company. A board meeting caused Sonnabend to cancel a European trip as he believed he was about to be named president. Had he been, he would have quickly terminated auto production. But at the end of the stormy six-hour meeting, Sherwood Harry Egbert, age 40, emerged as president, and at double Churchill's salary. Through Beyden, Francis had arranged a five-year loan of Egbert from McCullough Motors.
Under Egbert, car production was to continue -- for a while. South Bend was elated, and Egbert was indeed treated like the man on a white horse. Banners blasted out: WELCOME SHERWOOD EGBERT. Everyone was full of hope, and it seemed well founded.
The imposing six-foot-four Egbert had been grabbed by Robert P. McCullough after he left the army as a captain. McCullough saw in him the makings of a brilliant corporate executive and groomed him for big things within the company. McCullough was right -- Egbert did the right things at the right times, and with great skill.
Brooks Stevens was a recognized industrial designer of three decades standing. As such, he had a clear vision of how to go about creating the 1962 Gran Turismo Hawk.
The situation at Studebaker required that Egbert work fast. There was little time and less money. He toured the dealerships, making changes, and put people to work painting the dingy South Bend factory. Unfortunately, he left intact the old inefficient central home office staff.
Egbert had no intention of ceasing auto production -- he loved cars. Besides, Studebaker had contractual agreements with its dealers to supply cars and parts. If it didn't, the corporation would open itself up to monumental lawsuits. The choices were to either slip out of the car business in just the right way, or to raise auto sales to a profitable level.
On the next page, read about designer Brooks Stevens and how he created the Gran Turismo Hawk.
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Developing the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk
To regain lost market share, Studebaker's president Sherwood Egbert developed three proposals on which he would stake the future of the company. One was an updated Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk. He called on his old friend, Brooks Stevens, whom he knew through McCullough. Stevens had designed McCullough's new plant when the business moved to California from Wisconsin, and all of the company's products -- everything from chain saws to superchargers -- had been designed by Stevens.
A graduate of Cornell University's architecture school, Stevens was a respected master designer of three decades. Among his credits were Evinrude outboard motors, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, radios, tractors, trains, planes, and cars. Stevens collected cars, wrote about them, raced them. He had designed them for Frazer, Willys, Paxton, and had penned many specialty vehicles. Today, he is probably best known for designing and, with his sons, producing the Excalibur.
Egbert knew the Hawk was old and degraded by too much chrome and awful fins -- it needed fixing. That would be Stevens' job. When Stevens arrived in South Bend, Egbert was in Germany checking to be sure Studebaker was making the best of its arrangement for marketing Mercedes-Benz automobiles in the U.S. But Stevens quickly set about determining how much money was available for retooling the Hawk and how much time there was to do it. There was too little of both.
Seven million dollars for a model change (for both the Hawk and Lark) was practically nothing, and the car had to be in production in only a few months. Companies like GM and Ford worked on lead times of three years and spent many tens of millions. If Stevens was to succeed, he had to be clever and fast.
He took what was left of the Starliner design with him to his Milwaukee studios, where he and his staff rendered dozens of proposals. They then applied cardboard cut-outs of the changes directly to the car, sometimes trying one design theme on one side, another on the other side. Some automotive writers of the period said the final design was derived from the Packard Predictor, but it wasn't; Stevens' design grew out of his clear vision of what the car should be.
One of Stevens' personal cars then was an Alfa Romeo Gran Turismo. The name "Gran Turismo Hawk" alluded to the blend of European style and American comfort that he wanted to create in his design. For him, no other name for the car was ever in the running.
Studebaker's liaison with Mercedes-Benz is seen in the prominent radiator grille of the 1962 Gran Turismo. Although the idea was present in earlier Hawks, Stevens squared the grille and framed it in classic Mercedes fashion with an upside down chrome horse collar. An embossed minor bulge was added to the hood, serving to stiffen it. The concave scallop on the doors of the Starliner was replaced by smooth slab sides. As an accent, a stainless steel strip ran the full length of the rocker panel, merging into the chrome surrounds of the wheelwells.
Early on, this strip had been limited to the area immediately below the door, but Stevens said this had produced quizzical looks. A narrow strip of stainless steel, with a small accent fin just be hind the headlights, ran the full length of the top of the fenderline to the taillights, much as on the 1961 Lincoln Continental. Stevens specified painted headlight rims to replace the gaudier chrome ones (they showed up in 1963).
Continue reading about the newly updated design of the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk on the next page.
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Design of the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk
In the rear of the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, the taillights were visible from the side as well as the back, again hinting of the Lincoln Continental. They featured built-in backup lights and flanked a purely ornamental mesh grille treatment on the decklid. The radio aerial was mounted in the center of the leading edge of the decklid. The rear window sported inset glass, a Stevens trademark seen earlier on some of his creations for Willys.
The hardtop roof borrowed its shape from the Thunderbird: squared, flat, and with wide sail panels. In abandoning the pillar-type rounded roof seen on previous Hawks, Stevens was able not only to increase headroom for rear passengers, but to give the Hawk a roofline then very much in vogue.
The Hawk emblem, with wings upright, flew on the sail panel above a wide strip of embossed chrome. There was one major difference on the Hawk's greenhouse, however: it sported a ridge across the top of the roof from sail panel to sail panel, creating a form akin to earmuffs. Here, Stevens was looking ahead. He suggested that dealers might paint the front part of the roof silver, thus creating an open effect.
In his drawings, Stevens went a step further. He proposed a sliding panel that retracted into the earmuff section for a semi-convertible effect. Unfortunately, the Targa-like design would have required substantial body and frame bracing. That meant money and additional engineering time. There was neither, so the idea was abandoned.
The interior of the car spoke of understated elegance. The driver found everything in the right place, like the large and legible instruments that were mounted on a splendid vertical three-plane panel that pointed the gauges at the driver. One owner said he bought a Gran Turismo because he couldn't afford a Continental Mark II, but later when he did buy one, he didn't keep it long -- he preferred the superior and more practical interior of the Hawk.
For the first time ever, an inner cowl was made of fiberglass. Here necessity had been the mother of invention, for Stevens wanted that distinctive dashboard. Because of the low production projections for the Gran Turismo, this expensive component was fabricated in fiberglass to save tooling costs. Structural components were designed into the cowl. The mounting of the dash padding was, in part, facilitated by the use of fiberglass.
Both a clock and a tachometer were optional. Non-glossy simulated wood surrounded the instruments, the appliqué having been printed through an arrangement with Egbert's friend at Automobile Quarterly. An aircraft-like panel of perforated bright metal continued to the right across the dash, cleverly concealing the radio speaker. It gave a "mechanical" look to the interior and flowed into the door panel. The doors sported a red, white, and blue accent strip between armrest and window. Both the three-plane dash and the use of luxurious carpeting on the doors were later copied by Ford and GM.
Perforated acoustical vinyl was used for the headliner. The buyer could choose between cloth or ribbed vinyl for the inserts in the over-size bucket seats (reclining buckets and seat belts were optional). Unfortunately, the vinyl used on the 1962 model had been stamped too deeply and didn't wear well. In the rear, a pull-down armrest added extra comfort.
The Gran Turismo Hawk's engine was a major selling point for the car. On the next page, read about what went on under the hood of the Hawk.
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Under the Hood of the 1962, 1963, 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk
Under the hood, the Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk's Thunderbolt engine was a stroked version of Studebaker's old reliable 259.2-cubic-inch V-8. Displacing 289 cid, it churned out 210 horsepower with a two-barrel carb, 225 with the $22 four-barrel-carb option. (The 259 V-8 with 180 or 195 horsepower was available on export models, as was the old straight six.) Although a three-speed manual gearbox came standard, a floor-mounted four-speed and Flightomatic automatic were offered, as was overdrive. Finned-drum brakes, variable-rate front coil springs, anti-sway bar, asymmetrical rear springing, and telescopic shock absorbers were standard.
Overall, the car looked and felt like a high-speed four-passenger European Grand Touring car. The auto magazines praised it; Motor Trend, for example, described it as "a willing and able car definitely in the tradition of the high-speed tourers of Europe."
Stevens had begun the Hawk project in March 1961. To everyone's amazement, the elegant black handmade prototype was delivered to Studebaker headquarters in July. What would have taken GM or Ford two and a half years to do, Stevens had accomplished in a matter of weeks.
The Gran Turismo changed very little in appearance during its three-year run, showing only slight alterations of the front grille, rear decklid treatment, and interior. People not familiar with the differences can learn to tell them apart by the hubcaps: stainless and black in 1962, a white center surrounded by a white ring in 1963, and similar to Avanti's in 1964. The 1964 model deleted the decorative overlay on the trunklid and most sported the optional half vinyl roof -- the vinyl being applied forward of the ridge. The Gran Turismo was the first production car with a half vinyl roof, a treatment that was widely copied and is still available on some cars.
The biggest news in year-to-year changes showed up under the hood. In 1963, the surprisingly fast Avanti debuted, and the Hawk benefitted from the engine work done for that car. Two hot versions of the 289 were offered: the 240 horsepower R-l, and the McCullough-supercharged 290 horsepower R-2. Although the superchargers are sometimes called Paxton, they are one and the same, being named after Robert Paxton McCullough. By this time, Egbert thought of the superchargers as being so much a part of Studebaker that he had the company buy that part of McCullough Motors.
For 1964, a 304.5-cid engine theoretically became available. A stroked version of the 289, the R-4 version boasted twin four-barrel carbs and 280 horsepower. The supercharged R-3 cranked out 335 horses. Although listed, no Gran Turismos were factory built with either engine. Still, the 120-mph speedometers on the Hawk were changed to 160-mph units at mid-year to enhance Studebaker's performance image.
To maximize the Gran Turismo's exposure, Stevens campaigned a Hawk-based race car. At his Excalibur works, he had a tubular frame built and installed a blown engine and Gran Turismo components. Labeled the Excalibur Hawk in proud chrome letters on the front fenders and sporting Hawk emblems on its chromed roll bar, this unique car did quite well on the racing circuit. Using a more conventional form of the production 1963 Hawk R-2, Andy Granatelli (by then vice-president of Studebaker's supercharger division) made 140-plus-mph runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats. His record runs with the similarly equipped (and Stevens-designed) Lark Daytona model also brought in much needed publicity.
Studebaker was finally ready to show off their new automobile. Read about the reaction to the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk on the next page.
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1964, 1965, 1966, 1967 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk Models
Car show visitors first saw the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk displayed as two specials: the White Hawk and the Black Hawk. The former featured a white exterior with black interior, black half vinyl roof, and knock-off wire wheels. The Black Hawk reversed the color scheme. When shown, they introduced the public to the half vinyl roof. Both cars were sold after their auto show appearances.
Stevens wanted to keep the spirit of the Gran Turismo Hawk alive, just as he wanted Studebaker to continue building cars. He suggested to Egbert an all-new line of 1964-1967 cars to make the firm more competitive. Stevens knew they would have to be different, priced right, and cheap to tool. His spectacular proposal consisted of three models: a top-of-the-line Sceptre two-door personal sport coupe (the Gran Turismo replacement), a four-door sedan (Lark replacement), and a station wagon. Stevens' team built quarter-size models of each car, placed them in individualized cases, and Stevens himself took them to New York for the directors to see.
Echoing Egbert's enthusiasm, the board supported the plan to produce the cars. Stevens thus went to Turin, Italy, to have prototypes built. Not having the funds to hire a big name firm like Pininfarina, he looked to the backyard shops that were good, but needed work. One of them, Sibona-Bassano, scrutinized the models and agreed to build prototypes for an incredibly low $16,000 each.
Egbert and Stevens couldn't have been more pleased when the cars were ready a few months later in 1962. They were easy to drive and were photographed with beautiful Italian models before coming to the U.S. To save money, each car featured a deluxe and standard side, allowing for a total of six different models. Of course, the Sceptre rated as the most impressive. The sides were single planes -- none of the bulges or offsets so common at the time. For privacy, without obstructing the view, the sail panels were of darkened translucent plastic. The top surface of the roof sported matte silver.
Here was the first car with wall-to-wall lighting at the back and front, the latter a single horizontally mounted fluorescent-type light made by Sylvania. Huge cornering lights were mounted on the front fenders, each incorporating a red warning light at the back of the unit. Air intakes for the engine and the car's interior were separate, with the interior air being drawn in through a distinctive grille at the leading edge of the hood. Both the hood and the trunk opened from the car's mid-line, making access to both areas easier.
Production of the Gran Turismo Hawk had been 9,335 for 1962, and then plunged to 4,634 units for 1963. The 1964 model year looked even grimmer, and only 1,767 Gran Turismos were built before Studebaker halted auto production in South Bend in December 1963.
Even with a beautiful and practical design, the Hawk's lifespan was short. Read about the last days of the Gran Turismo Hawk line on the next page.
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The Final Days of the 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk
Inside the 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, three-point rotating door handles -- similar in design to the steering wheel -- set a futuristic theme. The ribbed metallic/vinyl seats helped keep one's body cool and comfortable. The instrument strip and console leaned in a curve toward the driver. Four instruments were located in clear plastic hemispheres aligned in a row on the dash, clearly visible from any position. Behind them, on a pedestal, the angle of the slide-rule-style speedometer could be adjusted to suit the driver.
On the passenger side, a spacious lighted-mirror vanity case could be pulled forward for convenience. The Sceptre was not only beautiful, it was designed to be practical, both for the owner and for the ease of manufacture. Stevens had paid careful attention to saving tooling dollars; interchangeability of parts and a reduction in the number of manufacturing dies were vital because of Studebaker's limited funds. Thus, doors were made as mirror images of each other and trunk lids and hoods were the same, keeping the number of unique stampings to a minimum.
But it was already too late. Sherwood Egbert fell ill with cancer. He had surgery, recovered, relapsed, and finally had to resign (tragically, he died soon after, at an early age). Studebaker's money was so low by now that the writing was clearly on the wall.
The Gran Turismo Hawk was dropped for the 1965 model year. In fact, it never finished out 1964 -- Studebaker had quit production in South Bend in December 1963 to consolidate operations in its Hamilton, Ontario, plant. No matter how beautiful the car, how spectacular its performance, or how much praise the critics heaped on it -- and they did -- buyers were afraid to buy what might become an "orphan." Total sales of the Gran Turismo Hawk for all three seasons reached only 15,736, including export models. Compare that to 92,843 Thunderbirds in 1960 and over 40,000 Buick Rivieras for 1963.
After South Bend closed, Brooks Stevens carried on with minor face-lifts for the Lark and Wagonaire, the only cars Studebaker still produced. He was able to bring off some minor wonders, and he had earlier managed to introduce his dashboard vanity and the sliding rear station wagon roof of the Turin prototype, but that was about it.
Ironically, Studebaker's death struggle and Sherwood Egbert's herculean efforts to keep it in the car business provided two wonderful automobiles: Loewy's Avanti and Stevens' Gran Turismo Hawk. Stevens can be proud that the simple, elegant beauty of his Gran Turismo Hawk will always have appeal because of its purity of line. Had Egbert survived to take Stevens' Sceptre and the other two cars to production, perhaps Studebaker would have recovered and still be building cars today. The working prototypes survive and can be seen "in the flesh" at the Brooks Stevens Museum in Mequon, Wisconsin. Looking at them, one can tell that Studebaker had been at yet one more crossroad -- and had chosen the wrong turn.
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